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Successful Learning: 3 Ways To Build Your Project Management Skills

It’s the time of year when we all start to think about what to include in our appraisals with project sponsors and line managers. It’s also the time when we need to think about what development and training opportunities we’d like to get involved with in the year to come.

That’s where 70/20/10 comes in.

Have you heard of 70/20/10? It’s a learning and development model that is widely used in the training communities because it outlines how people learn in a holistic way. The numbers refer to the amount of time people spend learning at work in different forms.

Here’s how they break down:

  • 70% of learning is completed on the job. This could be through taking on new responsibilities, learning about a different department as part of a new project or by stretching yourself to do better each year in conjunction with conversations with your manager and performance targets.
  • 20% of learning is completed ‘near the job’. This means learning alongside and with your colleagues. Examples of this include lessons learned reviews or retrospectives, continuous professional development, sharing best practices, mentoring or being mentored and more.
  • 10% of learning is completed off the job. This involves attending formal training and structured learning. While you might technically be on work time, you’ll have carved out a slot in the day to take an e-learning course or you may be attending a classroom course during the week.

Project Management LearningThis model of learning is the one chosen by the UK government as part of the Project Delivery Capability Framework (PDCF), which lays out the development pathways for individuals working in government in project delivery roles. It’s applicable to everyone from those in the top senior strategic positions through to those at the beginning of their careers.

The 70/20/10 split is not meant to be absolute. Think of it as representative of the amount of time over a year that you might spend doing different types of development activity. No one is going to calculate their learning time to the minute, but broadly if you’re serious about your professional development, you should be doing some of each, in about that split.

Let’s look at each of the options in a bit more detail and discuss what they might mean for project delivery professionals.

1. On the Job

Many people rate on the job training highly. It’s a solid and well-respected way of learning, even if you could argue that it takes a long time and isn’t structured. This year we’ve seen apprenticeship schemes growing in project management and part of the learning in those will be on the job development.

There’s often the belief that more senior you are, the less you have to learn. That’s not true and in fact I’d go as far to say it’s completely false. The skills that get you to a senior role are often totally different to the ones that help you achieve in a senior, strategic position.

Your ability to think critically, assess multiple strands of information, resolve conflict and create strategy are all different to what you might have had to do further down the organisation.

On the job training is applicable to people at all levels in the hierarchy, although what you learn at each step is going to be totally personalised to you and your role.

2. Near the Job

This is the area where I think the distinction is most grey. The PDCF defines it as ‘social learning’. A lot of continuous professional development falls into this category, which is beyond doing your day job but not quite as formal as a structured training course.

Activities like webinars (including the ones run by us here at Strategy Execution), networking events, evening seminars, communities of practice, reading industry magazines, books and blog s and more are all included.

This is a really flexible way to learn and build your skills and while it isn’t formal and structured, you can get involved in what interests you. If you haven’t been involved in strategy execution in your business, for example, but would like to be, you can learn more about it here, here, and here.

What I love most about this is that you can create your own opportunities by talking to colleagues, setting up a professional group at work, or even doing something like writing a blog. Anything that helps further your own understanding of what you have learned counts. It’s the reflection that you do through discussing what you’ve learned with others and reflecting on it yourself that helps cement and embed your development.

3. Off the Job

PM TrainingThis is the area where most people typically spend less time. Unless you are in full-time education, you’re going to end up spending the smallest portion of your work life in formal training.

Formal training is also the most expensive of all these options. The commitment, either from yourself or your manager, to do a formal training course, is significant. So you need to make it count.

These days, formal training covers a huge range of topics and is delivered in a number of formats, all designed to give you the best possible chance of transferring your learning to the workplace, so you can continue to learn on the job (see how it all links together?). Whether you want to learn via e-learning, distance learning or in the classroom (or a combination of all three) you’ll find a course that suits you.

Off the job learning is normally something you’d want to do in conjunction with your employer. Once you have understood your strengths and gaps, you can look at what formal training is available to help you address those gaps. With the rise of the focus on strategic delivery, this could be something at a senior strategic thinking level, through to being able to deliver using specific project management techniques.

There’s a huge scope for formal learning here with everything from degree courses down to spending a day or less with likeminded others in a classroom. This is the perfect time of year to be thinking about how you are going to make the most of your 10% learning time over the coming 12 months. What course would make the most difference to you at this time in your career?

At the end of the day, what I think is most important is not how you split your time, but that you do some kind of professional development at all. I know not everyone is going to have the budget or the chance to get away from work to do a formal course. But you can still improve your ability to deliver on strategic objectives.

You can still learn, and you should recognise that the work you do on the job and chatting to your colleagues is learning. That webinar you join at lunchtime is a way to improve your skills. These are all opportunities that you should be aware of and willing to embrace because it’s only through continuous challenging ourselves to do better, personally and as businesses overall, will be increase the ability of our organisations to deliver successfully.

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About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth Harrin
Elizabeth Harrin is a career project and programme manager with over a decade of experience in healthcare and financial services. She's also a content strategist, award-winning blogger and author of several books about project management. Find her online at A Girl's Guide to Project Management

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